Red Sox

Varitek plans to play beyond 2011

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Varitek plans to play beyond 2011

By SeanMcAdam
CSNNE.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Jason Varitek will turn 39 a few weeks into the regular season, an age when most players are eying retirement and the opportunity to relax.

Varitek is about to begin his 14th season with the Red Sox, all of them spent playing a punishing position.

But instead of getting closer to the finish line, Varitek hopes to keep playing. And not just for another season or two.

Asked Sunday if he could picture himself doing what Bob Boone (who played until 42) and Carlton Fisk (active until 45), Varitek didn't hesitate.

"Absolutely,'' he said. "I think once you're done playing, there's no making a comeback. If my body holds up and I'm able to do the things I can still do, I'll play as long I can.

"If I start compromising my livelihood for my kids and stuff later in life, then I've got to start questioning things. If I'm not putting myself in a competitive spot to help a team win, then I have to question things again.

"But . . . is that what I envision? Yes, that's what I envision . . . You can only play this game for so long and as long as your body holds out and you can be productive and do things. I love playing.''

This could be viewed as the second season of the rest of Varitek's career. Last year, for the first time since 2001, when he broke his elbow, Varitek didn't play at least 100 games, and while he missed time with a broken foot, that had little to do with injuries.

The Sox went with Victor Martinez as their primary catcher and Varitek was relegated to a backup spot. He embraced the role without complaint and, especially early in the season, hit well. When Varitek injured his foot in June, he had an OPS of .871, a way-more-than-respectable number for a 38-year-old catcher.

After rehabbing his foot, Varitek came back in September and was entirely out of rhythm at the plate, collecting just one hit in his final 17 at-bats.

Still, what Varitek took away from last year was the passion he still has for the game. The skills, he showed in the first half, are still there, too, as long as he's not overworked.

He would, of course, prefer to play more. But in time, he learned how to make the transition to backup.

"Accepted or embraced it, I think theres two different things because things can change in a hurry on one end,'' he said. "You cant not not be prepared. Just like Vic Martinez last year hitting his thumb, you got to be ready now right in the middle of that game. So accepting is different than embracing it. I think embracing whatever role that you have for the betterment of this team and trying to do what we want to do is win another championship.''

As Varitek recounted, the transition actually began the year before when Martinez, obtained at the July 31 trade deadline, became the de-facto starter behind the plate.

"I had a good month to two months of being in that role in 2009,'' he said, "It was at a different situation than it might have been having the ability to prepare for it, for winter, for spring training, etc. I think that was harder than it was doing it.

"But then I needed to learn what I need to do to stay sharp. That still will be a work in progress because I think we did a lot. We did things with catching instructor Gary Tuck and did things with hitting coach Dave Magadan that allowed that at different times. It allowed me to be a little more free and active on the bench and those type things.''

This season, Varitek will serve as the backup and mentor to Jarrod Saltalamacchia, with whom he's highly impressed. A number of veteran pitchers have already remarked that Saltalamacchia's personality and style remind them of Varitek himself.

"Salty's going to be Salty,'' said Varitek. "Hopefully, he's not living with constant comparisons. I believe Salty is his own person and he's going be his own player. And he's extremely talented. I don't know if I had those abilities that he has when I was that young and breaking in.

"Yeah, we're both big catchers, we switch-hit, strong-armed throwers and love to play the game. But his work ethic and the things he's shown are the reason we've been able to create a bond right away.''

Varitek urges patience with Saltalamacchia and a chance to learn from his growing pains.

"We may see him great early in the season,'' he said, "or we may see him not-so-great early. But he's going to be a good player - no two ways about it. He's too gifted and works too hard not to be.''

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

Why the Red Sox should sign not one but two relievers

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Why the Red Sox should sign not one but two relievers

BOSTON — There is a world outside of Giancarlo Stanton. 

Stanton, at this point, simply doesn’t appear likely to end up in Boston. That should feel obvious to those following along, and so should this: it can change. 

But there are other pursuits. Besides their search for a bat or two, the Red Sox have been actively pursuing left-handed relief options. Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski is a fast mover, but this year’s market has not been.

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Robbie Ross Jr. and Fernando Abad are both free agents, leaving Robby Scott as the lone incumbent southpaw from last season's primary group. Brian Johnson is bound for the pen, with Roenis Elias as a depth option too.  Still, even if Johnson’s transition pans out, the Sox still have an opening for a late-inning reliever with the departure of free agent Addison Reed. 

Reed is a righty, but between Matt Barnes, Joe Kelly, Heath Hembree, Carson Smith, and Craig Kimbrel, the Sox have more right-handed choices than left. Coming back from surgery, Tyler Thornburg, should be in the mix eventually too, but it's difficult to expect too much from him.

What the Red Sox should do: sign one of each for the bullpen, one righty, and one lefty. And then trade a righty or two. Turn some of that mishmash into an addition elsewhere. Be creative. 

Because inevitably, come midseason, the Sox will want to add another bullpen arm if they sign just one now. Why wait until you have to give up prospect capital when you can just add the piece you want now?

Go get a near-sure thing such as Pat Neshek, a veteran who walks no one and still strikeouts a bunch. At 37 with an outgoing personality, Neshek also brings leadership to a team that is looking for some. He walked just six guys in 62 innings last season. Entering his 12th season in the majors, he’s looking for his first ring.

All these top of the market relievers may be handsomely paid. But relievers are still something of a bargain compared to position players and starting pitchers. One of the key words for this winter should be creativity. If there’s value to be had in the reliever market, capitalize on it. 

Comeback kid Mike Minor, Jake McGee and Tony Watson headline the crop of free agent lefties available. Brad Hand of the Padres could also be had by trade but his market isn’t moving too quickly (and he won’t come cheaply).

Minor, 29, who posted a 2.55 ERA in 2017 after health issues kept him out of the majors in 2015-16, is expected to be paid handsomely. He is also open to the idea of potentially starting if a team is interested in him doing so. The Royals reportedly could give him that shot.

McGee’s American League East experience could be appealing.

He's 31 and had a 3.61 ERA with the Rockies in 2017 and has a 3.15 ERA lifetime. He’s not quite the strikeout pitcher he was earlier in his career — he had an 11.6 K/9 in 2015 — but a 9.1 K/9 is still very strong, particularly when coupled with just 0.6 homers allowed per nine.

For what it’s worth: McGee has also dominated the Red Sox, who have a .125 average, .190 on-base percentage and .192 slugging against him in 117 regular-season plate appearances. 

McGee throws a mid-90s fastball with a low-80s slider. He can operate up in the zone, and he actually has been even more effective against righties than lefties in his career, including in 2017. McGee’s been a closer, too, with 44 career saves.

The Sox had the second-best bullpen in the majors by ERA in 2017, at 3.07. Yet, come the postseason, there wasn’t a sense of great confidence or even a clear shape to the pecking order behind one of the absolute best relievers in the game, Kimbrel. 

HOFer Joe Morgan's letter urges voters to keep steroid users out of Hall

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HOFer Joe Morgan's letter urges voters to keep steroid users out of Hall

Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan is urging voters to keep “known steroid users” out of Cooperstown.

A day after the Hall revealed its 33-man ballot for the 2018 class, the 74-year-old Morgan argued against the inclusion of players implicated during baseball’s steroid era in a letter to voters with the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. The letter from the vice chairman of the Hall’s board of directors was sent Tuesday using a Hall email address.

Read the full text of Morgan's letter here. 

“Steroid users don’t belong here,” Morgan wrote. “What they did shouldn’t be accepted. Times shouldn’t change for the worse.”

Hall voters have been wrestling with the issue of performance-enhancing drugs for several years. Baseball held a survey drug test in 2003 and the sport began testing for banned steroids the following year with penalties. Accusations connected to some of the candidates for the Hall vary in strength from allegations with no evidence to positive tests that caused suspensions.

About 430 ballots are being sent to voters, who must have been members of the BBWAA for 10 consecutive years, and a player needs at least 75 percent for election. Ballots are due by Dec. 31 and results will be announced Jan. 24.

Writers who had not been covering the game for more than a decade were eliminated from the rolls in 2015, creating a younger electorate that has shown more willingness to vote for players tainted by accusations of steroid use. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens each received a majority of votes for the first time in 2017 in their fifth year on the ballot.

Morgan said he isn’t speaking for every Hall of Famer, but many of them feel the same way that he does.

“Players who failed drug tests, admitted using steroids, or were identified as users in Major League Baseball’s investigation into steroid abuse, known as the Mitchell Report, should not get in,” Morgan wrote. “Those are the three criteria that many of the players and I think are right.”

Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez were inducted into the Hall of Fame in July. They were joined by former Commissioner Bud Selig and retired Kansas City and Atlanta executive John Schuerholz, who were voted in by a veterans committee.

Some baseball writers said the election of Selig, who presided over the steroids era, influenced their view of whether tainted stars should gain entry to the Hall.

Morgan praised BBWAA voters and acknowledged they are facing a “tricky issue,” but he also warned some Hall of Famers might not make the trip to Cooperstown if steroid users are elected.

“The cheating that tainted an era now risks tainting the Hall of Fame too,” he wrote. “The Hall of Fame means too much to us to ever see that happen. If steroid users get in, it will divide and diminish the Hall, something we couldn’t bear.”

© 2017 by The Associated Press